Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Writing Doesn't Make You Bleed

I keep stumbling across posts along the lines of, "Write the Thing That Makes You Bleed." That theme is present even in posts that don't specifically focus on that topic. The message? Writing hurts. You should write the painful thing, the thing that makes you bleed, the thing that scares you.

You have to bleed to make it real. It must hurt you to be valid.

I do acting things. In my experience, that method of work is unhealthy -- dangerous, even. You should take care of yourself and your mental and emotional health. You come before the work. It doesn't always have to hurt, and it certainly doesn't have to be painful to be valid.

Writing, to me, is like a more static form of acting where I get to be all the characters. Some of those characters have almost nothing in common with me. Do you know what I do when I don't "feel it"? I pretend. It's called acting, after all. I can pretend and sometimes that is safer than bleeding.

I got onto this topic thinking about my two main writing projects. One is more "bleed-worthy," shall we say, while the other is less so. I find that I enjoy the less "bleed-worthy" project more. I have fewer hangups. My writing is better, more efficient, and I get more words out per day. I also really love these characters and their story, precisely because I am less emotionally invested in them. I can like them as characters and not as scattered pieces of self.

The other project requires more emotional commitment from me, and I'm beginning to suspect that that's why it has dragged on for so long. Emotional investment means that I'm too close to the story to see it clearly. This story doesn't hurt, but I am closer to it emotionally, and that makes me a worse writer.

I knew a director who wanted to cast someone as Ophelia in Hamlet because she had recently and suddenly lost her mother. The director thought it would make Ophelia's grief over the sudden death of her father more "authentic." I pointed out that it might not be a good time for the actress to play that part. The director countered that it could help her work through it. I pointed out that Ophelia commits suicide.

Theatre as therapy? Writing as therapy? I agree with and support those things -- in a controlled setting, when the writer or theatre-maker is ready for it. Your journal is a safe space. Art therapy is a safe space. Writing professionally for something that you intend others to read and publish -- not necessarily a safe space.

When you are writing, you need to know when -- if -- you are ready to write the thing that makes you bleed. And part of that is being able to realize that writing the thing that makes you bleed is not necessarily the best thing for you to write right now. Or, hell, ever. Healing is realizing that you might not be ready. Healing is prioritizing your health and not feeling guilty when something you want to write scares you.

I reject the notion that you need to hurt yourself to be valid.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Acting Woes

Brief update, not on writing, because I'm mostly not doing that at the moment, but on the other side of my life: theatre.

I'm facing an odd problem in rehearsal. The scene is done with a spa concept. And everyone is talking about spa things and props and stuff you stick between your toes, face masks, pedicures, what people always do when they go to the spa. What spa days are like, what they look like and feel like. The process. The atmosphere. Things that are not my "normal."

Pedicures and manicures were a treat for me, for special occasions. I have had one pedicure and one manicure in my life, both before junior prom. In high school. Never a spa day. I've never been to a spa place. And as for the dinner party exercise we did, well...nope. Not much experience with those, either.

Now, I don't need to go all "method actor" and have a spa day just to be able to understand this scene. I pick things up, take cues, and besides, I've seen plenty of movies. It's just been a very illuminating experience. The thing that gets me is how everyone talks about it like it's totally typical. A commonplace feminine experience. My understanding of this experience is assumed. Yet I was never privileged to have this experience because spa days were expensive and impractical -- at least for people of our means. 

It just makes me aware of difference. It struck me at this time because of another comment in class, about how basically everyone has iPhones nowadays. Yes. Many people have iPhones. Many more people can't afford iPhones, though. That is not their normal. It is not my normal.

I mean, I'm in grad school. I have a certain amount of money. My family is not poor. Experiences like this, though, are just...illuminating. Interesting. But not necessarily in a good way. No one is deliberately excluding me or anything malicious, but...

Awareness of difference. That's what has been on my mind lately.